The Malta Independent 25 May 2024, Saturday
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Whistleblowers

Thursday, 11 April 2024, 09:11 Last update: about 2 months ago

Joe Azzopardi

“Do not allow bad things to happen. The problem of the world is not the power of the evil, but the weakness of the good.”

Libor Michalek

A couple of weeks ago Robert Abela confirmed that a former PL activist, canvasser and driver of parliamentary secretary Andy Ellul will not be given whistleblower status. Roger Agius wrote twice to the Office of the Prime Minister requesting immunity if he reveals details of a ‘criminal organisation’ linked to the social benefit fraud racket that is being investigated by the Police. Agius is claiming that OPM twice ignored his requests. Robert Abela ended up by attacking the would be whistleblower who “has criminal procedures against him.” He continued that Agius “is now seeing how he can obtain immunity from criminal procedures.”

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During the 2012 electoral campaign Joseph Muscat had promised, amongst a thousand promises, that if elected his government would eradicate corruption. He promised to enact a whistleblower act. True to his word, in September 2013, the government implemented the Protection of the Whistleblower Act. The act made provisions for procedures to provide protection to persons who report incorrect and corrupt practices. “By the implementation of this legislation the citizens are given the right to report abuses, knowing they will be protected by law,” he solemnly declared.  

In 2015 Anthony Debono, husband of former PN minister Giovanna Debono, was arraignd in the Gozo Court and indicted with charges of the misappropriation of public funds, falsification of documents, fraud and  abuse of power. A Gozitan contractor, a certain Joseph Cauchi was awarded whistleblower status after the Gozo Ministry’s permanent secretary asked the police to investigate his allegations against Debono.

Former Minister Giovanna Debono immediately resigned from the Nationalist parliamentary group.  She remained in Paliament as an independent but did not contest the 2017 general elections bringing her political career to an end.

In March 2021 the Court found Anthony Debono not guilty of all 13 charges brought against him. Assisstant Commissioner Ian Abdilla was the prosecutor, while no other than Robert Abela assisted Joseph Cauchi. The prosecution appealed, but the Court of Appeal confirmed the sentence of the first Court. In its sentence, the Court of Appeal, presided by Judge Consuelo Scerri Herrera said that the Court could not find a person guilty simply on suspicion. The Court remarked that “the accused could have been spared serious criminal charges against him had the Police carried out proper investigations.”

That was the only time that someone was given protection as a whistleblower... In more than a decade, despite that several cases of corruption scandals became known to the public, Joseph Cauchi became the only witness granted protection under the Whistleblower Act. It is now clear that law was not used to protect Cauchi but only to persecute an Opposition politician.

In 2017, Jonathan Ferris, a former police inspector who worked as an investigator at the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) claimed that he came across evidence of corruption ‘reaching the very top’ of the Maltese government. Ferris was denied protection and was refused any means of having his claims investigated. Instead he was sacked by the FIAU.

Since the publication in 2016 of the Panama Papers, journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia had been researching vast corruption and money laundering schemes in Malta.

When it comes to Maria Efimova, instead of giving her protection the Maltese authorities sought her extradition after her former employer complained against her. The Greek Courts rejected the request after Efimova had given herself to the Greek authorities. Pilatus Bank had its licence revoked by the European Central Bank in 2018.

Maybe the most famous whistleblower of all time was W. Mark Felt, notoriously known as Deep Throat, the informant to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein - the reporters who broke the Watergate Scandal in 1972. Felt was a director of the FBI when he leaked information about President Richard Nixon’s involvement in Watergate. Watergate led to Nixon’s resignation and imprisonment for two top officials of Nixon’s administration.

Frank Serpico was the first ever police officer in history to testify about the New York Police Department’s corruption. In 1967 he reported corruption including bribes and pay-offs to officers with no results. In 1970 he contributed to a New York Times story on a systematic corruption within the NYPD which led to the Knapp Commission which found widespread corruption. Amongst its final recommendations were that commanders should be held responsible for their subordinates’ actions. It also recommended that undercover informants should be placed in departments and an improvement of selection methods and screeing before employement.

Libor Michalek chose to blow the whistle twice in his career exposing two national scandals in the Czech Republic. In 1996 he was fired from the National Property Fund uncovering financial fraud. He got his job back after a year-long legal battle. In 2010 while working for the State Enviornmental Fund he uncovered a scam to inflate the cost of a wastewater treatment plant in Prague, which remains the biggest corruption scandal in Czech history. Michalek with a reputation as a corruption fighter was elected to the Czech Senate in 2012.

Many may argue that whistleblowers are moles or traitors. But apart from trying to get a reward they might also be looking for deliverance. In a democracy whistleblowers are needed because they can expose swindlers, corrupt public officials and politicians. And that is the raison d’etre of the law. The state can get hold of information that otherwise would have been lost. A queen sacrifice for a checkmate.

But, unfortunately this is Malta.

 

 

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